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China Goes to War with Academia

In the first quarter of 2019, the Chinese government’s growing international assertiveness and influence have escalated tensions with the international academic community. On 22 January, China lashed out at 143 foreign academics and former diplomats who signed an open letter to President Xi Jinping demanding the release of two Canadians detained for ‘endangering China’s national security’. It is widely believed that the two were arrested as a reprisal for the decision of the Canadian judiciary to arrest Huawei’s deputy chairwoman and CFO Meng Wanzhou in response to an extradition request from the United States. Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the letter a ‘great disrespect’ that interfered with China’s sovereignty and judicial procedures. In mid-February, Chemi Lhamo, a Canadian citizen of Tibetan origin active in the Free Tibet movement, was bombarded with online hate messages after being elected as student president at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus. The strong pro-China sentiment in the messages led to the suspicion that the Chinese government was behind this. Meanwhile, Rukiye Turdush, a Uyghur-Canadian activist, was videotaped and interrupted by a group of Chinese students while delivering a speech on China’s mass internments of Uyghurs in Xinjiang at McMaster University, Canada. This group of Chinese students was believed to have been asked by the Chinese Consulate to collect information about Turdush and the organisers of her talk, and to observe whether any Chinese nationals attended her speech. In the meantime, several scholars in Chinese academic institutions were purged for having advanced views critical of the Chinese authorities. In the most notable instance, Xu Zhangrun, a law professor at Tsinghua University, was suspended and put under investigation for having published essays in which he rebuked the most recent policy shifts under Xi’s leadership. NLiu

(Sources: ABC News; China Digital Times; Hong Kong Free Press; Radio Free Asia; The New York Times; The Straits Times; Tibetan Review)

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